by J. B. Polk
We don’t choose our family. And families don’t choose us. It’s a random match and not always made in heaven. If it were up to me, I’d be born in the Amazon rainforest and survive on nuts, berries, and fresh air. But I had the misfortune of being conceived in a Catholic Polish home where missing Sunday mass was only acceptable if one was dead or had a significant brain injury that rendered him unconscious and unresponsive to sermons. Not even a broken leg was a valid excuse because, between cousins and uncles, the injured individual would be strapped to a chair and dragged to the temple.
Throughout childhood and adolescence, I endured interminable liturgies in freezing cold and scorching heat, counting the minutes until they were over. Meanwhile, I‘d pluck fluff from my jumpers, making a multicolor felt cushion I hid in the hymnal. I must have survived nearly a thousand masses, counting all the Sundays until I reached adulthood, and every time the priest chanted, “Go in peace,” with the congregation responding, “Thanks be to God,” I added, “That the ordeal is over!”
I received religious instruction at Holy Trinity Parish on Tuesdays and Thursdays for over ten years. May was the Virgin Mary’s month, so evenings were dedicated to praying the Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. The Corpus Christi procession took place sixty days after Easter. February and March were lent months, which meant subsisting on meatless meals for forty days. For some strange reason, fish was allowed. Christmas planning began in December, and to ensure children’s participation in the Nativity play, our local nuns, devious creatures, printed scenes from the Bible, cut them into 20 squares and handed out one piece every night. If we failed to complete and show the image on Christmas Eve (you got it—at midnight mass), we had to confess and repent by cleaning the grotto behind the church, even though the temperature dropped below zero and the ground was covered in snow.
When I turned 18 and left to study, I smelled, tasted, and held onto rebellion like a drowning man finally reaching shore. I would no longer have to fast and abstain on appointed days, confess my sins once a year, and sit through the mass ever again.
I was free, I thought. But boy, was I wrong! The Catholic faith is like a fungus because it cannot be removed entirely once a spore takes root. When you think you’ve been cured, it latches into you, spreading its multi-pronged web. You can fight all you want, but twenty years of religious indoctrination create deep wounds.
For 30-odd years, I have teetered on the verge of atheism, occasionally crawling toward agnosticism and sporadically returning to my father’s faith. Always against my better judgment.
At such moments, I turn to the Bible and reread particular chapters that have left a lasting impression on me. I don’t care much about Noah and his ark or Moses crossing the Red Sea. But I revisit Genesis because it leads me to an epiphany that some Christians would call heresy.
According to Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth before proclaiming: “Let there be light!” And there was light. He waved his wand again, this time making land.
“Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the beings that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind,” he said.
When he was done with the light, the land, the sea, and the creatures, God created humans, announcing: “Be fruitful and increase in number. Rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and every living being that moves on the ground.”
On the seventh day, the Good Lord, gazing out at his magnificent universe, rested on a stone he had also created.
Fast forward a few dozen years. Still sitting on the rock, puffing on his pipe, and spitting roasted sunflower seeds, God noticed things were not as they should be.
His keen eye caught Adam and Eve buck naked, eating fruit from the forbidden tree. In Aramea, Cain murdered his younger brother, Abel, and fled into exile to Beer-Sheba because there was no extradition treaty with Eden. Noah’s descendants, like modern-day influences, constructed a tower at Babel because they fancied creating something permanent to immortalize their reputation rather than the Lord’s. And let’s not even get started on Sodom and Gomorrah!
Still puffing on the pipe and with his heart aching, God realized things hadn’t gone as planned. The earth’s inhabitants were selfish and vicious. Even the animals devoured each other and, at times, attacked the humans who were supposed to rule over them.
He pondered for a long time and then said: “None of my previous creations turned out as I had hoped. But they are only prototypes. I will create someone strong enough to work hard but gentle enough to care for babies. Someone who will be silent yet whose eyes will speak volumes. Someone who can take away sadness and tears with a single lick. Someone whose presence and fluffy paw will cheer up a broken heart. And to make him fun, he will fetch sticks, fart, sniff crotches, and roll in his poo and won’t feel ashamed. A magnificent creature who will have it all.
Thus, God created a glorious being he called Dog, inverting his own name.
That, my friends, is why I keep returning to being a believer. Because no Big Bang could have given origin to the perfect living form, we know as a canine.
J B Polk is Polish by birth, a citizen of the world by choice. Her first story was short-listed for the Hennessy Awards, Ireland 1996. She regularly contributed to Women’s Quality Fiction, Books Ireland, and IncoGnito. She was also the co-founder of Virginia House Writers, Dublin, and helped establish the OKI Literary Awards.